June 18, 2016
Home at Last
It is such a relief to be home - It is like one big, deep exhale after holding your breath for too long. When I was gone, I never fully let down my guard, because I knew that there was no one to have my back or to sort out my problems… If I didn’t do it myself, I couldn’t move forward. I didn’t realize this until just now though. The past few days, I’ve been exhausted, which is mostly from the jet-lag, but I have a feeling it also includes a year’s worth of baggage being lifted off of my shoulders.
One thing that’s different about being home this time, is that I appreciate everything! Seriously, I will never take real bathrooms, peanut butter, or air conditioning granted again. Hahaha of course I’m most appreciative of seeing my friends and family, but there are some little things that contrast with rural Vietnamese lifestyle that I can’t help but love excessively. Being able to drink water from the tap for example, or not having to wear a face mask when going outside, are just a few! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Vietnam, but these small luxuries make me feel like a queen.
It’s funny how fast we can re-accustom ourselves to things. Old Greenwich is exactly the same, as if I never left. When I saw my friends and family, after months and months of being separated, it was crazy for the first two minutes - everyone freaking out and hugging, but then it all goes back to normal immediately. That’s how you know you have best friends. A year has gone by and all of us have changed, radically - my friends are done with their first years of college which is such a transformative experience, and after traveling the world alone, I’ve definitely changed as well. Yet, we all come back together, all slightly different and improved, but the friendship is as strong as always.
How have I changed? It’s hard to sum it up in just a few sentences, but I feel as if my eyes are wise. They have seen so much now - so much beauty, love, and the happiest moments, but also pain, struggle, and sadness… and I am a more complex person now because of it. I think of myself as a block of clay, that when born, is untouched and blank. With every experience, I am sculpted a little more, carved with facets of personality and interest. I am only 19, so the clay is still wet, but with every morning, I wake a more complex sculpture. To live well is an art form.
This year also taught me to appreciate slowness, and to value strong relationships - without false emotions or acquaintances. Sincerity is the cornerstone of what makes a good person, something American culture tends to disregard. Further more, it doesn’t matter where we are, but rather who we are with, and personal attitude is EVERYTHING. Any situation, no matter how horrible it may seem on the surface, is an opportunity for something amazing, as long as we see it in that light. I remember a few weeks into Everest, after a rainstorm, the house became infested with cockroaches. One of my friends was EXTREMELY afraid of them, so of course, they all seemed to flock to her. I spent probably an hour getting this one huge cockroach out of the bathroom so she could take a shower, and although this probably sounds disgusting to you, it was one of my favorite experiences looking back on it. Everyone was screaming and laughing at the same time, trying to shoe the guy out with the back of a broomstick, ducking when, all of a sudden it came out of nowhere, flying right at our heads (yes, cockroaches can fly in Vietnam). Hahaha, who would’ve guessed I would look back on that cockroach with fondness?
I’m also not scared anymore. I’ve come to realize that fear has absolutely no purpose, as there is no point in wasting energy worrying about the uncontrollable future. All we can do is to try our best, right now. Every obstacle or challenge is a hurdle to jump over, but rather than thinking about them as something blocking my path, I think of it as part of a race that I am running for fun! Thinking back to my track and field days in middle and high school, sometimes I would run the 50 yard hurdle race. The whole point of the hurdles, is to jump over them - that is the fun part, otherwise it becomes just a 50 yard sprint. Challenges, like hurdles, make the journey longer, more fun, and more memorable.
Traveling is truly the best education. You don’t have to go far to get the most of it, but you must go alone. I think of my gap year as somewhat of a “walkabout,” like the indigenous Australian boys used to go on as a rite of passage. Of course, my year was much less intense compared to theirs, as they would go into the complete wilderness alone for 6 months to a year. But, they are similar in that my time traveling alone lead me to better self-understanding and ultimately the transition into adulthood. I met so many travelers doing similar things - trying to “find themselves”, or “figure out what they’re doing in life” or “just roaming”… I’ve heard so many responses to that ambitious and inevitable questions of, “So, what’s you're story?”
Although I am home now, my gap year isn’t over - It never will be over! In my mind, “a gap year” changed from meaning “taking time off school to travel” to simply, “constantly going on new adventures.” Life is all just a series of different adventures, so who’s to say our entire lives can’t be one huge gap year? For example, my year was divided into 2-3 month segments: All around Europe, Brussels, Barcelona, New York, Sydney, Vietnam, and now that I’m home, the adventures continue. My newest one is being a sailing instructor for two months, and then I move to Boston to start college at Harvard!